Night Vision in the Balkans

America and Europe should appreciate how quickly and how well they've dealt with the latest violence in the Balkans. Just a decade ago, when former Yugoslavia was descending into ethnic violence, the West was fumbling and hesitant.

Now, with the flareup of fighting in Macedonia, this newspaper can report scenes like this: A US Army platoon leader patrolling the hills between Kosovo and Macedonia says he's equipped to stop any Albanian rebels:

"We have night vision. We have thermal imaging. We have soldiers out in the country day and night. We see people all the time. We stop them and search them. We're quite adept at finding people out here."

If that level of military engagement by NATO had existed in the early 1990s, when the West was still trying to figure out how to act in the post-cold-war world, tens of thousands of people might not have been lost to ethnic cleansing and massacres. But after two wars in the region, NATO now has 42,000 troops in Kosovo, and another 22,000 in Bosnia.

And despite the reluctance by the Bush administration to make any more commitments to the Balkans, the US nonetheless has quickly given diplomatic and military support to Macedonia's\ government to help it fight off a small Albanian insurgency.

Once again, the US has shown that it has the best military capability, such as aerial reconnaissance photos, to help stop a civil conflict before it escalates into a regional ethnic war.

And with the US and its NATO allies cutting rebel supply lines from Kosovo, the message is being sent to militant Albanian nationalists that peaceful means must now be used to resolve political differences and that Macedonia's territorial integrity is essential to Europe's interest in a stable Balkans.

Still, the grievances of Albanians in both Kosovo and Macedonia will not go away once this rebellion is suppressed.

The West must still work with the new government in Serbia to provide autonomy, if not independence, for Kosovo. Holding full elections in the province would help that.

And the West must push Macedonia's Slavic-dominated government to boost the political participation of the minority Albanians and to address their complaints about discrimination.

Compared with most other states of former Yugoslavia, Macedonia has served as a relatively good model of ethnic peace, or at least coexistence. Its stability is necessary to support the West's goal that multiethnic states can survive in the Balkans despite decades of strife that led to wars.

The region has been an anvil for the US and Europe to learn some hard lessons.

Now they are paying off.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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